Michael Fitzgerald is a writer and art magazine editor living in Sydney. His first novel, The Pacific Room (2017), was developed through a Varuna Publisher Fellowship; his second, Pietà, is being released in June 2021, also through Transit Lounge Publishing. His literary work has also appeared in magazines such as Kill Your Darlings and Westerly. He is Editor of Art Monthly Australasia.
Why do you write? This is something I’ve never really asked myself, and I wonder if it would be dangerous for me to find out at this late stage. Sometimes it’s best just to keep doing what you instinctively feel you need to do. With writing especially, I think there’s a danger in overthinking things. I’ll leave that up to actors to ponder: What’s my motivation?
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? A strange dream of mine would be to be a casting agent.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Life constantly interrupting and intervening. How dare it! … While my novels have been relatively short (in length) so far, they have taken me SO LONG to write.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes. I’m not sure how it is elsewhere, but at Transit Lounge my experience has been especially collaborative and creative.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being solitary and alone. It’s thrilling and scary, but very quickly things scribbled into notebooks and onto a computer screen begin to fill the void. And soon stories and characters flood your head and have a life of their own through this strangely mechanical and meditative process of pushing a pen or typing at a keyboard. I also love swimming for the same reason.
—the worst? Not having the time to write.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? To maybe think less about what other people might think, and to not try and second-guess what readers (or publishers) might want – but, at the same, not to ignore them, and to learn to lean into them a little more productively and meaningfully. Sorry if I’ve totally contradicted myself here, but I’m obviously in two minds!
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing in particular, because I think it’s important for everyone to follow and find their own path and to sometimes stumble and grope around in the dark. That’s how I’ve done it, and I can’t imagine anything different.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? To never submit or press ‘send’ until a piece is absolutely finished and ready – though of course knowing when the moment is right is a whole other thing. I’m still not entirely sure … So, on second thoughts, maybe the best advice is something smaller and more technical – like Margaret Atwood saying (in the Paris Review I think) that the key to proofreading is a good ruler, and going through the text line by line.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Embrace the difficulty. It definitely doesn’t get any easier as you get older. I’m 56, but sometimes I feel like I’m still starting out. So, finding a voice, and the best narrative vehicle to express it is something I’m still wrestling with. It’s part of an ongoing process that never stops. Keep wrestling!
How important is social media to you as an author? I haven’t succumbed to Facebook or Twitter (perhaps to my detriment), but I do enjoy Instagram (I’m @mf.novelist). When you’re writing (or editing all day like I am), it’s sometimes nice to do it with images. And I’ve found and friended other writers on Instagram, some of whom use it in interesting ways ‘to share and connect’ (those ubiquitous words). Though it’s sometimes difficult to find the right tone and to avoid appearing gloating and self-obsessed – those ugly hallmarks of social media. Of course, occasional ‘digital detox’ is essential for any writer.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? As I mature and life gets more crowded and noisier, the writing bit of writing is not so much the challenge, but blocking out periods of solitary time is. For me time, and it’s perhaps a cliché to say, time and silence is key. Finding myself up at Varuna, The Writers House late last year, and faced with a week’s residency and with no particular goal in mind – and no distractions – was heavenly. I ended up writing short stories, one of which will be published in Westerly magazine this year. The experience took me back to the two weeks I spent in a convent in Rome, researching Pietà.
How do you deal with rejection? Stoically, and to immediately latch onto another hopeful or positive opportunity – there are so many these days. And to learn to love your ugly ducklings and to keep trying to turn them into swans. I have also been meaning to maintain a special ‘rejections’ notebook, as there have been so many over the years, and to keep this as a badge of honour.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Different each time.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Patricia Highsmith or Tennessee Williams. They both transgressed conservative convention in postwar America – one through spare, eviscerating psychological thrillers, the other through poetic and transcendent prose and plays. I would just like to hear them speak, look at their quizzical faces, and spend time in their writing studios while perhaps passively inhaling their cigarette smoke – you can always find out so much from the physical spaces writers inhabit.
These are the last days of 1999. At St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as the world waits for the new millennium, Lucy, a young Australian woman looks up at Michelangelo’s Pietà behind its pane of bullet-proof glass; a red kabbalah string circles her wrist. She has come with the mysterious parcel her recently deceased mother asked her to bring to the box marked POSTE VATICANE.
But before Rome there is Saint-Cloud. Here, on the outskirts of Paris, Lucy works as an au pair for Jean-Claude and his wife Mathilde. When Mathilde leaves for Central Australia to research the Aboriginal artist Kumanjayi, Lucy’s circle of contacts becomes smaller and strangely intimate: Jean-Claude, the baby Felix for whom she cares, and the couple’s charismatic friend Sébastien, a marble restorer.
Yet Lucy’s homesickness for Australia and its vastness haunts her world, surfacing in the memories of her mother, the Australian garden at Empress Joséphine’s Malmaison, and Mathilde’s letters from Alice Springs. Lucy’s mother, Jude, who was a nun in the 1970s, once warned her daughter ‘to be careful what she wished for’. It is a caution that marks but rarely alters the choices these characters make.
With lushness and tenderness, and revelation, Fitzgerald’s unforgettable novel Pietà exquisitely captures the glorious and imperfect relationships between parents and children, between art and life.
Buy the book here.